My Life As A Green Balloon, short story by Richard Allen at

My Life As A Green Balloon

Eventually, it stopped and I began to dry out. I had landed in a patch of grass, partly wedged against a small shrub, next to one of these stone shapes. During the day, several birds, a couple of small people and – horror of horrors – one of the small furry creatures with claws inspected me, but thankfully, left me alone. I quickly realised the reason why. The air was definitely escaping from me faster than it had previously. I could even feel my skin beginning to thicken. How long it would take before all the air was gone, I could not tell. But I suspected it was a matter of days. However, something strange and even miraculous seemed to occur as my inner breath passed away from me. The less there was inside me, the more I seemed to understand. Instead of providing a barrier to comprehension, my thicker skin and increasingly concentrated air within seemed to encourage even more. I realised that the towering white pointed building of which I could now see but part of one side, was a huge pyramid, copied from a land far away, across the sea. The stone objects which were all around me were memorials to people who had died. In many cases, the remnants of their bodies had been buried under the ground, under these stone memorials. There were people from many different countries – German, English, French, Russian, Scottish, American and even some native Italians. People would come from time to time and look at some of them. I could even tell when some of them appreciated, even deeply appreciated, several of these memorials, while in other cases, they regarded them with mute incomprehension. They had been buried outside the walls of the city because they did not believe the same things as those who had been interred within. But this was nothing to what poured into my consciousness. I began to understand what was going on in the minds of the birds that flew around me. The little birds energetically, almost desperately, seeking food while fiercely defending what they considered to be their territory. The crows and rooks, less territorial, but fiercer in snatching the tiny or dead creatures which were their prey. The millions of insets – mostly tiny, flying and crawling – without apparently an individual thought, but the common thoughts of the collective. The stalking cat – only ever interested in something like me if it had been taught to play that way – in search of mice or frogs to chase and kill….and sometimes devour. The large slobbering dogs, confused between their attraction and loyalty to other canines, while following the thousands of years of training to worship and obey humans. The feral pigeons, chasing after scraps with a bravery which ignored the horrendous risks. The seagulls, winging their way overhead, with keen eyes and a pitiless mind searching for prey. Butterflies and moths, forgetful of their lives as a chrysalis, rejoicing in the freedom of the air, without even realising it. Slugs and snails, persevering, disregarded and slow – with minds that focused almost wholly on getting to food and eating it. Swallows and swifts and their familiars – bats – whizzing through the sky at speeds almost faster than they could think, gathering up their insect food, almost by chance. And then there were the people. The little ones, I now realised, were merely the young of the larger ones. Brains of such complexity – with such abilities, such capacity – not least for the abstract thought which eluded all other creatures. No crow wondered why it was where it was and why it carried out its life as it did. No cat bothered about its death. (Nor did it even contemplate the idea that it had nine lives!) No butterfly could appreciate the beauty of flowers or their scent. No animals could create things of beauty – from buildings to tiny miniature paintings, from symphonies to plays and poetry – deliberately. None could even try to seek to understand the world – from the structure of flowers and trees to the movement of the skies, the nature of the earth, the nature of sub-atomic particles.
None could posit the idea of a god, of reason, of science and the scientific method, of the nature of thought, of the concepts of good and evil, of right and wrong, of balance and justice, of faith and belief, of scepticism and even cynicism. But I sensed within these wonderful minds both a light and a darkness. None could entirely escape from being in the body it occupied. That was a boundary between the individual and everything else – just as my green, thickening skin was what kept this precious air from escaping and leaving me lifeless. Yet this boundary inserted an element into this marvellous brain which inevitably contorted it. This partly reflected what the person perceived as their consciousness developed. Just like me in my earliest time, their consciousness was barely developed, receiving sensations, rather than being able to comprehend them. But soon, like me, each one developed a consciousness of self. And for almost all it seemed, that became the most important principle of their lives. Capable of self-sacrificing love, they were also capable of utter, inhumane and barbaric violence to their own kind and to other creatures. Capable of seeking and discovering the most profound truths, they were also capable of the basest and most damaging lies. They could ask themselves the most penetrating and even self-lacerating questions, while also sheltering behind a self-serving wall of deceit, often described as ‘belief’. Most of all, this armour of self enabled them to ignore and forget the most horrendous activities which others carried out or were suffering – unless they were directly affected. Then rarely was anything forgotten or forgiven. They were capable of such beauty, such profound thoughts, such wonderful love and yet for every virtue, almost inevitably there seemed to be an opposing darkness. It seemed to me that few chose – or were able to choose – one end of the scale or other, and certainly not all of the time. But my skin shrivelled at what evil, brutality and hardship they were prepared to countenance, provided it affected someone else. But my misery was overtaken by more profound mysteries, which revealed themselves to me. Suddenly, I was aware of the beauty of numbers. The infinite series of prime numbers, occurring in a seemingly random pattern, which could be analysed to give a picture of elegant harmony. The series of prime primes – where the integers of a prime add to make another prime – 23 which adds to 5, or 1949, which adds to 23 which adds to five, and so on. The seeming inevitability of the infinite number which is Pi – a randomness which bothers you, only if you are someone who has to find a pattern in everything. At first, I was worried about the 3. It seemed too definite, too much of a starting point. But then my mind received the comprehension that Pi
is a way of describing a circle and a sphere – two objects which have no end and no beginning. And even if it derives from somewhere else, everything can be delineated by a starting point. At a certain point, I came into existence, as did everything around me. What occurred after my consciousness died, I had no idea, as yet. Perhaps I might enter into a different type of consciousness – as many people appeared to believe – though I wondered how much of that was the wishful thinking to which many human minds seemed particularly prone. I realised that it was possible to approach the eternity of a circle by increasingly smaller and smaller straight lines, an exercise which produced the elegance of differential calculus. And seeking to understand the pattern of prime numbers produced the structure of an ever-widening coil which was the basis for the power of logarithms. It seemed that the world, the universe, could be reduced to a multitude of structures which could be explained by these structures called numbers – which would be true anywhere and at any time in any universe. I could see it in the leaf lying next to me and in the grass growing slowly by me. Also in the eternal pattern of life and death and life. Once this leaf had been nothing, then a shoot on the branch of a tree, a fully-grown leaf, which began to dry out and then fall, turning eventually to dust and the soil, which would feed the tree and help it produce new shoots.

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